Franchise Players: A Former Banker Escapes Monotony Through Franchising
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Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
There was only so long Steve Betts could work in banking. At a large corporate bank, he found himself forced to ignore customers' best interests. At a smaller, family-owned bank, he had little chance of advancing in his career. Franchising gave Betts a chance to do business on his own terms. Here's what the DreamMaker franchisee has learned as a banker-turned-entrepreneur.
Name: Steve Betts
Franchise owned (location): I own DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen locations in Lubbock and Amarillo, Texas.
How long have you owned the franchise?
I bought opened the Lubbock location in 2006 and bought the Amarillo location in 2007.
A typical white-collar person eventually will feel trapped in their job or will feel like they have hit a ceiling. Their earning potential is limited. The only way to earn more is to work harder and do more. If my compensation is commission-based — which it increasingly seems like it is for everybody— then I have to sell more this year than I did last year to make a little more money. I wanted to be rewarded for my work in proportion to the amount of time I put into it.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I graduated with a master’s degree in economics from Oklahoma State. After college, I went into banking. I worked for a corporate bank in Wichita that had a lot of turnover because of bank mergers, and the turnover created a lot of opportunity for me.
Everything was performance-based, which was good, but it was a corporate environment where my boss was changing every six months to a year. The new boss always wanted to improve the numbers so that he could get promoted. After a while, you see that you can’t continually increase things by 50 percent to 100 percent, and I felt like decisions were being driven by the bank’s numbers, not by what was in the customer’s best interest.
I left that job for a family-owned bank in Amarillo. I got there, and it was like a time warp. People stayed for 30 to 40 years before they retired. They started there, and they retired there. There was much more of a focus on customer service, but your opportunity to advance was extremely limited.
I always wanted to own my own business. Over the last year or two I was at the bank, I worked with the person who owned the DreamMaker franchise in Amarillo. He told me he loved DreamMaker, that it had transformed the way he did business and he was making good money doing it. Unfortunately, his dad had become ill and lived in Waco, and he was wanting to sell his location and move. I made the jump and started doing sales for him as an employee with an eye toward buying the business.
I actually wound up buying an open territory in Lubbock, 120 miles south, where we started a DreamMaker from scratch. Within a year, we bought the franchise in Amarillo as well.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
It is a business based on Biblical principles. You start to see the heart of Doug (Dwyer, DreamMaker president) and see that he is different. For him, it’s not about money, per se. No question, he is a hard negotiator trying to make a profit, but not at the expense of others. He has integrity.
The other thing I appreciate is the strength of the other franchisees. You just see really, really good people morally who are doing their best and working to get better, and who are willing to share ideas and help you out. It’s a real family atmosphere. From a business standpoint, if you are willing to plug in, you can talk to two or three guys and find out what has worked for them and what they would do differently if they had a chance to start over. That sharing, to me, is the strength of the whole organization.
Additionally, one of the biggest complaints people have with remodelers is that many will lowball the price and timeframe for the project. We deliver what we say we are going to deliver, and we know what it will cost. Our systems are so thorough that it enables us to do that. We also take the time to listen to our customers and educate them about options and styles. I don’t want one of my customers to go to a Parade of Homes and say, “Oh, my gosh. I wish someone had told me about that spice rack pullout, or that beautiful countertop.” Our customers tell us over and over that our projects look like something out of a magazine.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
I spent around $40,000 before I opened.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
Most of my research before I purchased came from talking with existing franchisees. I also worked with the local DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen for about one and a half years before I moved and opened a location in an adjoining territory.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
The timing was horrible as both franchises launched just before the Great Recession, but God looked out for us. The toughest year we had was in 2011, and I scaled back and did sales for both locations. I would be in Lubbock, which is where I live, on Monday, then Amarillo on Tuesday and Wednesday, then back to Lubbock. My wife’s salary and some side business managing a farm helped us. I put in a lot of long hours. It was tough, but I never lost money and business really turned a corner more than a year ago. We had our best year ever in 2013 — it blew past my long-term goals for what I hoped the business would do.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Talk to existing franchisees, visit a working location, and ask lots of questions. Make sure you have an adequate reserve of money (three months' worth of operating capital minimum and a line of credit). Try and recruit the highest caliber people as employees from the very beginning. Most importantly, keep an open mind and be willing to change the way you are doing things.
You had never owned a remodeling business before. What is the key to your success?
I grew up on a farm in the Oklahoma panhandle and had a big-time do-it-yourself type upbringing. I can weld. I loved wood shop in high school; it was probably my favorite class. When I was doing property management at the bank, we hired contractors to do work. I worked with subcontractors, so I had some pretty decent experience working with them to get quality work. I wouldn’t hold myself out as a master craftsman, but I have finished jobs before.
My best lead carpenter right now also grew up on a farm. On the farm, the mentality is you get it done. I would contend that learning the business side of it is harder than learning the carpentry side of it. You should be running the business anyway, not doing the everyday carpentry work. It is better to hire good contractors, teach them good business principles and turn them loose, and then focus on sales. Quality work is a must, but businesses will die and — often do — because they don’t sell enough and they don’t sell at high enough margins. If you can sell and sell at high enough margins, you can pay for the best carpenter in town to come work for you. You may be a great carpenter yourself, but if you try to do it yourself, you run out of capacity.
What do you like about it?
I’ve found a new side of my personality. I really like design, and I have a pretty good eye for it. In banking, you have endless paper shuffling. With this business, it’s nice to be able to create something and see the joy upon a customer when you are finished and it is exactly what they wanted.
What’s next for you and your business?
This year we bought a house with a pool and an outdoor kitchen, and we constantly have kids over. I also bought a used Harley that I enjoy putting around on. My kids are active in sports, and we can be there for most everything they do.
I still have the same CPA I used when I was a banker, and he asks me, if you were still at the bank, how much would you have made last year? And every year since I left the bank, even during the downturn, I have made more money than I would have made at the bank. I’ve worked more hours, but bottom line, I’ve done better. What I made last year? There’s no way I would have made half of that doing what I was doing.